A deeper dive into the process of crafting The Pit
Updated July 16, 2019
My involvement with the Pit begun when Joey DeBlanco (Director, Editor, Actor, Choreographer) approached me to Assistant Direct - sharing his vision along with an early version of the script. I immediately came aboard, loving where the material was headed, and the ambition of a gritty action-thriller.
With the script not yet completed, I took a stab at the material. At its core, the script spoke to me on the idea of mob mentality, and the effect of fame - and that fueled my approach. My goal was to set emotional stakes in the story, maintain a fun, intense thrill-ride, as well as input a dramatic throughline through the piece. By the end of the process, the script transformed - a full rewrite in structure, dialogue, and characters, with Joey's story at its core.
With the script completed, Joey and I shifted to production along with our Producer Bethany Henthorne. As we prepared for shooting, I stressed the idea of clarity and having faith in our choreography and actors, rather than a cutty, shaky-cam approach.
I showcased examples of action scenes that inspired me in this regard (MI: Fallout, Sherlock Holmes, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Fight Club), and contrasted them with scenes that were unclear or jarring to watch. Joey, and consequently, our immensely talented camera team led by Director of Photography Alex Tetzner, were more than willing to take on the challenge.
We shot over the course of two Summer nights. The large set consisted of over 30 people - cast, crew, hair + makeup, and a dozen extras. There, my job was three-fold: managing the shooting schedule, maintaining order and morale on set, and taking the reigns from Joey when he was on screen.
Though like always, we ran into some roadblocks (power outage, dealing with sunrise, makeup difficulties), we were prepared enough to adapt and overcome them. The reality is there is never enough time to shoot, but you can't let that stop you.
After the dust of shooting had settled (and trust me, there was a lot of dust), Joey and I got to editing. Joey is an incredibly talented editor, so he took the lead in crafting the assembly cut. From there, the two of us met weekly where we would comb through the cut, and slowly chisel away at it.
Joey and I quickly built a rapport where we weren't afraid to try things that were out of the box, or even constructively be critical of each other's ideas. With Joey's deep understanding of audience experience, the idea of affinity of continuum of movement during action sequences, and my emphasis on story and tone, we created a steady workflow. And this steady workflow, where we prioritized the project over individualism, was essential to the overall outcome.
Outside FilmBar before The Pit showcase!
The Pit was by far the most ambitious project I've worked on. With so many moving parts and its sheer scale, it pushed my limits. It took a carefully planned workflow, but also an understanding of when to rip up that plan. A talented team of filmmakers, a deliberate crafting of story. Blood, sweat, and tears. (And dirt.)
My unique, hybridized role gave me a deeper understanding of filmmaking. It allowed me to build logistical and creative skills that I can take with me for the rest of my filmmaking career. It was amazing to help craft this story from the script to the final cut.
I am grateful for our dedicated and talented team that helped us tell this story -- and for Joey, who brought me on this project.
The blue you ask? Sunrise. Thank you to our amazing cast and crew!
Reviews from the ASU Film Festival:
"A stunning student film, head and shoulders beyond everything [in] the [festival]. It's true that the plot is predictable and centers on archetypal narrative situations/characters; yet there is a lot of satisfaction in this kind of genre recognition for the viewer. The dramaturgy of the plot follows a classic arc and brings the conflict to a meaningful conclusion. The cinematography is simply superb: shooting with low key lighting (which is very hard to do) creates the atmosphere of danger; the backlighting outlines the heroes' muscles and tense poses as they confront each other. The sand and dust are picturesque and atmospheric. A beautiful range of shot angles and scales really ads dynamism and drama. Absolutely fantastic sound design and editing. A wonderful decision by the director to use a circle as a mise-en-scene of "no escape," which concentrates the drama in the pit. The people shouting, the cars on which the fighters' bodies are smashed, the overlord - all are very effective decisions. I was completely blown away by the fight choreography: not only was it truly convincing, but it also was stunningly and suspensefully presented - in a way that made my own muscles tense up as I was watching the fight. An amazing job overall."
"Best cinematography I've seen by far. Excellent. The sound design elevates the fight scenes so perfectly. Editing is also very well done. The music choices allowed the tension to build, adding to an incredible viewing experience."